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The Titanic wreckage lies in two parts at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, slowly sinking nearly 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) below the surface, but it’s not the only one. A sonar blip detected some 26 years ago has now revealed that there is much more to this underwater region than previously thought.
PH Nargeolet, an experienced Nautile underwater pilot and Titanic diver, originally picked up the Echo equipment in 1996, but its origins have remained unknown.
During an expedition to the Titanic shipwreck earlier this year, Nargeolet and four other researchers went to the blip’s previously recorded location to search for the mysterious object it represented. Due to the size of the blip, Nargeolet had thought he was looking for another shipwreck — instead, he found a rocky reef, made up of several volcanic formations, and thriving with lobsters, deep-sea fish, sponges, and various types of coral that could hold thousands. are years old.
“It’s biologically fascinating. The animals that live there are very different from the animals that otherwise live in the abyssal ocean,” said Murray Roberts, a professor of applied marine biology and ecology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and one of the researchers on the expedition. “(Nargeolet) has done a very important piece of scientific work. He thought it was a shipwreck, and it turned out, in my mind, even more astonishing than a shipwreck.”
The abyssal plain is a term used to describe the ocean floor at a water depth of 3,000 to 4,000 meters (about 12,000 feet), which makes up 60% of the Earth’s surface, according to Roberts. It is thought to be a characterless, muddy seabed without much structure. A few times, divers have observed rock formations on the plain. Since the recent discovery near the Titanic, Roberts now believes such features are more common than previously thought.
Rocky areas can also help explain the distances sponges and corals travel across the ocean floor, which has always been a mystery to scientists. In the muddy environment where they are typically observed, there are few hard surfaces for these species to cling to to grow and reproduce.
“Sometimes they pop up in places where we think, ‘Well, how did they get there? They don’t live long enough to get there,'” Roberts said. “But if there are more of these rocky places, these stepping stones, then we ever thought, I think it could help us understand the distribution of these species across the ocean.”
The researchers are currently working on analyzing images and videos taken during their dive of the reef, and they plan to share their findings to improve the scientific community’s collective understanding of deep-sea life. Roberts also hopes to link this discovery to a broader Atlantic ecosystem project he is leading called iAtlantic, which will allow for further study and protection of the fragile ecosystem within the reef.
There’s another sonar blip near the Titanic that Nargeolet hopes to identify during a future expedition. It was included in the same survey he conducted years ago, between the wreckage of the Titanic and the newly discovered reef — now named the Nargeolet-Fanning Ridge after him and the 2022 expedition’s mission specialist, Oisín Fanning. Nargeolet expects whatever it is to be even bigger than this reef.
OceanGate Expeditions and their foundation — which partnered with Fanning to provide funding for the Nargeolet dive this year — will continue its longitudinal survey work of the Titanic and surrounding areas in 2023.
“The underwater life… was so beautiful. It was really unbelievable because I never expected to see that in my life,” Nargeolet said. “I will be very happy to continue watching the Titanic.”